03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NBC's Meatheads, Howie Mandel Beat Up Fox; Writers Lose

Who needs writers? Not NBC. It's using low-brow reality shows starring over-muscled meatheads and Howie Mandel to whip Fox's expensive, scripted programming.

Monday night, Fox rolled out two of its most prized scripted shows: One of its few remaining originals of "Prison Break," and the second episode of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," which premiered to huge numbers Sunday night.

Both were destroyed by reality flotsam thrown on the schedule by fourth-place NBC. NBC's "Deal or No Deal" (15 million viewers) wiped out Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (10.1 million) at 9 p.m., and "American Gladiators" (10.7 million) crushed "Prison Break" (7.9 million) at 8 p.m, according to Nielsen.

This came a day after "Terminator" got a high-profile launch, debuting to 18.7 million viewers after Fox's NFL match-up of the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.

This is good news for NBC, but not terrible news for Fox, which has the most popular show on TV — "American Idol" in its pocket. But it's awful news for striking writers. Conventional wisdom was that the networks with the most scripted programming in the bank would have a competitive advantage as the strike, now in its 11th week, wore on. But that's turning out to be as wrong as the yearly predictions that the "American Idol" phenomenon will fizzle, or that Americans will tire of reality shows in general.

The result? When the writers come back from their strike, they will return to fewer hours of scripted programming in which to ply their trade. Network execs predicted as much when the strike began, and it sounded like contract hardball. Now it seems like reality.